By Antonis Stroggylakis/ email@example.com
Everything seemed to be against Olympiacos Piraeus prior to the game against CSKA Moscow. The “Reds” weren’t only coming off an abysmal performance that resulted in an away loss to Zalgiris Kaunas but were also missing key players Vassilis Spanoulis, Giorgos Printezis, and Taylor Rochestie.
“Momentum isn’t on our side,” Olympiacos coach Giorgos Bartzokas said in the pre-game presser.
Yet against all odds and possibly predictions as well, Olympiacos beat CSKA Moscow 72-59 to sweep the Russian team in the EuroLeague regular season, improve to 10 – 14 and keep its playoff hopes alive.
CSKA completed the double-game week with two defeats, following also the loss to Anadolu Efes at home. The defending EuroLeague champions dropped to 16-8.
While Spanoulis and Printezis were out for Olympiacos, a large amount of duty fell on old comrade-in-arms Kostas Papanikolaou. The Greek forward had one of his top two-way displays in his career overall with 19 points, seven rebounds, five steals, three blocks and a tremendous effort on defense not shown on any stats sheet.
Brandon Paul finished with 11 points and six rebounds, Augustine Rubit had 13 points and Nikola Milutinov 11 points and 12 rebounds, seven of them on offense. Olympiacos had 19 offensive boards overall.
Milutinov collected back-to-back offensive rebounds with the score 65-56 and then Antonis Koniaris drained an important triple for the 68-56 with 2:12 remaining. It was a key moment since CSKA had a 0 – 11 run in a comeback attempt from down 20, 65-45, with five minutes left to play.
Mike James (20 points, seven rebounds, five assists, six turnovers) and Darrun Hilliard (11 points) were the only CSKA players in double figures. The “Army Men” suffered immensely from the intense defense of Olympiacos, while also committing many unforced turnovers that hindered their attacks and multiplied their opponents’ offensive opportunities.
CSKA had 19 turnovers in the mid of the third period when Olympiacos grabbed a 47 – 36 lead after falling back 33 – 34 at halftime. They finished with 21.
“We had all the hustle stats”
Olympiacos coach Giorgos Bartzokas elaborated on what he considered to be the key to victory: “I have to give credit to our players because as we asked before the game they fought for every possession. We had all the hustle stats; we had 19 offensive rebounds. We had six blocks. I think we had 14 steals. All the numbers that show that we hustled and we fought. That was the key to the game.”
Papanikolaou added: “Everybody gave his soul today for the game and played for the guys who were not here. We were short-handed and we showed character and mentality and great sacrifice for each other in the game. I was just trying to do my best. That’s why I’m happy. I was feeling full today, at 100 percent. It’s an amazing day for us.”
CSKA coach Dimitris Itoudis agreed: “We have to give credit to Olympiacos, they were today a great example for everyone. They come out to fight no matter who they were missing. There’s nothing easy, there’s no easy game and we should have responded and fight. We were not there to give our battles and that’s why I am giving credit to Olympiacos”.